In the United States, most kids are taught that you don’t pick up hitchhikers from the side of the road. Horror stories of hitchhikes gone wrong are ingrained in your mind from a young age, so when Jesse filled me in on his plans to hitchhike through Patagonia for well over a month, I thought he was off his rocker. I had never camped besides the one night in Huaraz, Peru with rented camping gear, and now not only did he want to camp our way down the Andes Mountains, but he wanted to hitchhike back and forth across the borders of Chile and Argentina until we reached the very tip of the South America too. HE’S OUT OF HIS MIND.
But we are a team, and he was so passionate about the idea that it was hard to say no to him. We became those people day in and day out with our backpacks on and thumbs out. And I’m so glad that we made the decision to camp and hitchhike through Patagonia.
This post will be a little bit different. It’ll be more like a record of our “itinerary” or better put, our travel time. It will be less of a coherent story, but rather quick memories for ourselves to look back on in years to come and help jog our memories of this journey. Once we get home, we will print all of these posts into a book, so sit tight and read on my friend.
We convinced the driver of our 20 hour bus ride from Mendoza to Bariloche to drop us off at a random intersection in the hopes of getting a hitchhike ride to Villa Traful. After waiting for 2 hours and only having 2 cars drive by, both of which passed us with stopping , we set up camp for the night and hung out by the river, relishing in the commitment we just made to really do this whole hitchhiking thing. We drank wine until after sunset then cooked dinner a little late, and realized a little too late that it was too late to cook. Lesson learned – even if you aren’t that hungry, you should cook while it’s light out so that you can actually see what you’re doing. We had headlamps with us, but cooking in the dark isn’t as nice.
Throughout the night we were woken up first by some policemen, then two trucks full of speed campers, and lastly the birds chirping good morning. The river water is also much colder at night after the sun has set. We wrote an entire blog about our first 48 hours hitchhiking and you can read more here.
Informal camping on the side of Rio Limay at the intersection of the roads that led to Villa Traful and Bariloche.
We woke up early and left the side of RP65, crossed the intersection to RN237, and hoped for more success than the evening before. We had enough food with us to walk all the way to Villa Traful if it came to that, but it would have taken two full days. Although the walk would have been gorgeous, it would mean cutting out two days somewhere else down the road.
It was freezing that morning too. Literally, not just figuratively. It probably wasn’t our actual coldest morning that we had, but it stood out in my mind as one of the coldest. That’s probably because it was our first and the pain from the cold air was real. We wore every single article of clothing that we had with us that morning until things warmed up - this was now our reality. We’d read blogs that said if you get warm easily, just suck it up and wear less in the mornings so you aren’t stopping every 15 minutes to delayer, but no thank you. We layered up and would learn to look forward to our frequent stops each morning.
I’m not even sure if we made it 15 minutes before I told Jesse I was ready to stop and take off a layer. We put our bags down on the side of the road and I went to work. I took off my boots before taking off my pants, to then take off my base layer merino leggings. A car quickly approached us, and either the driver was accustomed to hitchhikers poppin’ up their thumb or my lovely behind flagged him down, because mid-change, he pulled over and offered us a ride. Hitchhike Ride 1.
It was nice to get a ride so early after the defeat of not getting picked up the previous day. He brought us all the way to Villa Traful, where he stopped to delivery cheese and deli meat to a local market. We hopped out and continued walking towards the lake. It was still pretty early in the morning and we were hopeful to get another ride.
We stashed our bags behind some trees and took off uphill for a few hours to explore two waterfalls, then by lunchtime we were on the road again. We walked for a while, but were eventually picked up for Hitchhike Ride 2 by an Argentinian couple who dropped us off at the Agrestre Arroyos campsite. They had serious reservations about us getting out where we did and offered to take us with them to the seven lakes. The campsite was closed, but we hopped the fence, found a perfect hidden spot by the lake, and set up camp. We enjoyed a fantastic afternoon of exploring and a campfire dinner while we began Harry Potter on audio book.
Informally camping at the formal campsite Agrestre Arroyos since it was closed.
Trial Trails day 1. If you haven’t, read all about it here. It was one of our most memorable days of this trip.
Wild camping on a random mountainside in a tiny snow free clearing, somewhere halfway between last nights’ camp and Villa Angostura.
Trial Trails day 2.
Once we successfully emerged from the trail, I began the task of figuring out how to get to Villa Angostura since the pass was not passable. Normally when you hitchhike, you put yourself in a visible spot where cars are passing by, in the direction you are headed. Now though, we were at a destination and very few cars were coming and going. There were a number of cars parked though, which at some point would be occupied with drivers and passengers who spent their day at the lake.
This was new. I had to awkwardly wait until I saw a potential prospect, go up to them as they approached their car, figure out where they were going, and see if we could tag along. After a few practice rounds where we were denied, I realized that the best conversation starter was to ask where someone was going first, then if we could hop in their car. I asked one couple, another Argentinian pair, where they were headed. I had no idea where it was, and they tried to explain to me. They didn’t speak English and although they didn’t offer us a ride, the guy drew a map in the dirt and tried to help me get my bearings. We learned another lesson here; know the area around where you want to go and the major roads that lead in and out of that place. Although it was a no, this conversation was somewhat successful because at least I was more aware of our surroundings. Can you tell we were inexperienced?
I was a little less frantic, but still had a worried look on my face. Cars were slowly disappearing from the lake’s parking lot and our chances of a ride were looking slim. The same couple must have talked after I walked away and decided that they wanted to help us out because they came back and said although they couldn’t bring us to where we wanted, they could bring us to the next main road. Once there, they would go right, and we would go left. Next lesson - when you’re hitchhiking, even if you can’t get all the way there, you say yes to the driver, especially if they can bring you the intersection of another main road. Always take the ride! Hitchhike ride 3.
Hitchhike ride 4 came soon after we hopped out at the intersection of RP65 and RN40. Another Argentinian couple picked us up and brought us along RN40 to Villa Angostura. They offered to take us all the way to Bariloche, but Jesse heard about a boat from Angostura to Bariloche and we wanted to take that, so we politely declined and said that Angostura was plenty. However, we did not decline their next offer. The woman was driving and her man was in the front drinking beer. Don’t worry he told us, she wasn’t drinking. I translated the whole time since Jesse doesn’t speak Spanish and we swapped some stories of lessons he’d learned. Jesse told the guy that the best way to hide the fact that you are drinking beer is to drink out of a coffee mug so, laughing, the the guy pulled up his empty coffee mug from earlier that morning, opened a full growler by his feet, poured the mug full, and passed it back for us to share. We hadn’t yet learned about the mate hospitality that literally gets passed around in Argentinian culture, but this beer pass was much welcomed after the commotion and chaos of the last 48 hours on in the Trial Trails.
It was supposed to rain and snow that night and we were exhausted, so instead of camping we spent the night in Hostel International in Angostura. We also learned that the boat wasn't possible which added to our lack of desire to camp.
We slept in since we didn’t have to pack up camp this morning, and made our leisurely way to the bus station. We (mostly me) were still traumatized from the Trial Trails, so we decided to take a bus to Bariloche. It was hard to believe that 5 days ago we were already on a bus to Bariloche. Remember? WE CHOSE to get off the bus on our own to start this crazy camping and hitchhiking adventure. The next bus left in an hour, so we figured we would spend the next 40 minutes or so giving a half assed effort to get a hitchhike ride before buying a bus ticket. We weren’t successful, although I admit I wanted the easy way out on this one. We did meet this Irish couple though who was bicycling for 6 months all the way down through South America, and ran into them multiple times over the next month, so at least we made a travel friend out of the bus ride.
We arrived in Bariloche and decided to spend the next two nights in a hostel (Hostel like Quijote.) It was raining already, the forecast wasn’t looking great, and I still was recovering physically and emotionally.
Some much needed R&R and shopping. We were very cold the past few days and each needed an extra top layer. We also needed a buy a second pair of waterproof gloves. We had to share our one pair on the Trial Trails, and we were not about to find ourselves in snow or extreme cold again without gloves for each of us.
Hostel like Quijote. Guess who was in Bariloche? Jo and Lyndall! Our two Aussie gal pals we’d run into and traveled with the past few months every now and then. We met up for drinks (at a cute Irish bar that made a ton of home brews, one of which was a barley wine - our favorite type of beer), and this was the start of their journey with a French girl Paulina, who rented a car and let them tag along for the next few weeks as they drove down south along the Andes with Lyndal’s old friend Scott.
Day hike to Cerro Campanario. It was a pretty quick day hike. The incline was one of the steepest we experienced, but the hike only took an hour to reach the top so it wasn’t too bad. There was also a big group for this hike. Jesse and I only like traveling and hiking in big groups occasionally because with more people comes more opinions and cooks in the kitchen, but it was really nice to have a selection of stories to hear over the next two days. Here Jesse got to see one of the mountaintops from afar that we wanted to climb, but couldn't because it was covered in snow.
We made our way to the outskirts of Bariloche and stayed at Petunia camping. It was pretty expensive for what we got, but most of the campsites near town were still closed for the season, and with a recovery from the Trial Trails we were determined to camp for the night.
Side note: Patagonia in October is both a blessing and a curse. While the trails and campsites were nearly empty and we often times had them completely to ourselves, there are also many trails that are still closed because of snow. There were a few reportedly amazing hikes we wanted to do in Bariloche, but they were still closed due to snow. It’s one of those things where we were disappointed, but it all worked out because more days here would have meant that we would have had to skip something we did experience, and there isn’t anything we did that I would have wanted to skip.
While expensive, this campsite was huge and we shared it with one other couple who just purchased a really small teardrop travel trailer that was hitched to the back of their truck. The inside was just big enough for their bed and a few shelves, and the outside had a pull up door which revealed a baby kitchen sink and counter top with some storage and a mini stove. Seeing this was the beginning of plans for our next world trip: a renovated RV trip back through South America once we have kids and they’re 10-12 years old. It’s an idea that kept growing once the seed was planted, and will still be in the works for many years to come.
Day hike with the same group from yesterday to Llao Llao. It wasn’t the most amazing hike, but it was nice to share companionship with a group of people for a change.
Formal camping at Camp Petunia
We took a cheap city bus to the outskirts of town and began our hitchhiking again. This is also a good lesson for hitchhiking: go to the very outside of town in the direction you’re headed. People won’t pick up hitchhikers inside cities, so it’s best if you go out a little ways and to stand on the main road out of town (Jesse’s idea). We fairly bubbled over with laughter and enthusiasm as we stood with our ponchos in light drizzle. We got a ride within 30 minutes or so from another Argentinian man who drove us two hours to El Bolson. Hitchhike Ride 5. We’d read that for the hikes here, you had to register with the park ranger office for some of the more difficult hikes, so he dropped us off there before heading on his way.
The ranger told us that the three day loop we wanted to do was technically closed because it snowed hard on one of the passes a week ago, but that we could do it if we wanted. He said people had done the pass since then and if we didn’t mind trekking ankle deep in snow, we would be fine. Ankle deep? HA.
I felt like a boss after 3 hours in thigh deep snow (after the trauma from feeling like we almost died in the Trial Trails subsided) so we filled out the contact information sheet and agreed to start the trek the next day.
We had a few campsites picked out on MAPS.ME and walked a few kilometers to the first, which is also the one that we chose. The owner was extremely laid back, the campsite was empty, and the price was right so we set up shop. Jesse when on an adventure with the owner who we called El Rustico and an unnamed driver to a cabin in the woods about an hour away to meet an old man about a horse.
Formal camping at El Rustico.
We ventured into town to get some cheap eats, but didn’t make it very far before we found the most amazing hole-in-the-wall empanada shop. The sign on the door said that they were closed, but the friendly owner waved us in when he saw us peaking through the window. Picture an Argentinian Austin Powers stuck in time a few decades back, with a velvet blazer, checkered plaid high water pants, and a big gap toothed smile. This smile was infectious and he enthusiastically chatted our ears off about how much he loved the Lakers.
At some point Jesse and I caught the dance fever from the Latin soap opera dance scene happening on the small TV anchored to the corner of the room and we made the little shop our dance floor. We pushed the one plastic table and two chairs to the corner of the room and grooved to the music. The owner joined us by pulling his chef/wife on the makeshift dance floor and swayed with us to the music .
This was one of those moments that embodies why we travel. To live in the moment, and share joy with people from around the world who are so different from us, yet just want to enjoy life and its small moments. And the empanadas were so good that we visited them twice more during our stay in El Bolson.
We woke up early to bring some of our belongings that we didn’t need for our next hike to keep in a storage locker at the bus station. This is another hiking lesson: if you’re doing a loop, where you start and finish in the same location, leave any extra weight behind and pick it up when you’re finished. A lighter pack is a happy back.
We then embarked upon a 19 km hike, almost completely uphill to begin our three day loop of Rio Azul. It rained the day before so some sections of the hike were pretty messy and you needed all fours to grab onto vines and roots to keep from sliding down a muddy slope, but the hike was gorgeous. Our favorite thing about this hike was that the terrain frequently changed and always keep you looking forward to what was next. Looking up too. I couldn’t believe how we always kept going up and up and up.
We unexpectedly ran into Jo, Lyndall, Paulina, and Scott on the trail and although we didn’t hike together this day, we had plans to stay at the same camping spot that night. They were going to sleep inside and we planned to pitch our tent.
The weather all day was nothing but sunshine and clear skies, however approximately 30 minutes from our end goal for the day, the sky took a turn for gray. We hiked the last kilometer in a light snowfall.
As we approached the campsite from less than 1 km away, we entered a wide open field where we could see the pass for what was supposed to be day 2 of this loop. It looked like The Wall in Game of Thrones; covered in white with an opaque sheet of white snow blowing in front of it, fresh powder everywhere leading to it. The snow and rugged peaks beyond were gorgeous to behold, but weren't looking promising for our future plans.
We took off our soaked boots from hiking the last kilometer in the snow and warmed our toes by the fire as we waited for the girls and Scott to arrive. Even though we planned to camp outside at Refugio Hielo Azul, the snow wasn’t letting up and we didn’t want to be miserable and cold the next day as we still planned to make the pass and continue forward. We decided to pay to sleep inside the refugio and joined the group. It may sound crazy that we still wanted to keep going forward the next day, but the ranger/owner of the refugio said that despite the snow, the pass would be doable the next morning.
We woke up to way more snow than was expected to fall and the heart breaking news from the ranger that the pass was no longer passable. It snowed a lot during the night and the trail markers would be impossible to see. Jesse and I were devastated. Here we go again, another pass that wasn’t going to be passable. Jesse was growing more and more frustrated; this was the second pass we had to say goodbye to and return the way we came. That said though, we learned our lesson last time and returned back to El Bolson like the good little campers that we were. We hiked most of the way then hitched a ride back to town from a local Argentinian family. The dad was playing with his daughter up a hill, holding a machete and the mom was sitting in the car with the little boy as we walked by them. We waved and kept walking, but 30 minutes later they pulled up next to us and asked if we wanted a ride. SCORE! A little smile and wave can go along way. Hitchhike Ride 6.
The girls and Scott were staying at a hostel that was more like a home stay on the outside of town called Camp Luz Clara, and asked the owners if we could set up our tent there for the night. They said yes, so Paulina came to pick us up while we ate empanadas at our favorite little shop again and waited for a ride.
We hiked up Rio Azul on the trail that would have been the third day of the loop if we didn’t have to turn around the day before, mesmerized by views of one of the most beautiful rivers in Patagonia. Jesse, Lyndall, Scott and I hiked up to the best viewpoint of the river while we listened to Harry Potter 2 on audio book. They just happened to join in for the first day of the book. The day flew by and before we knew it we reached the main viewpoint.
Scott voiced the idea of jumping off the cliff, and Jesse immediately said he would join. They soon stripped down to their skivvies to jump into the frigid river.
Camping at Luz Clara. We all went to the grocery store after our hike and selected a fine array of options for a big family dinner and s'mores bonfire to say goodbye (mega s'mores with peanut butter and bananas) . After this Jesse and I were heading to Chile while they continued on in Argentina and wouldn’t see the girls again. (Lies - this was only one of many false goodbyes we had throughout our time in South America.)
Jesse and I walked a short distance to the main road and positioned ourselves in the right side of the road to head south on Route 40. It didn’t take too long before a massive 18 wheeler pulled over. We weren’t sure if he was pulling over for us or for another reason, but turns out it was for us! Hitchhike Ride 7.
Jesse had really been wanting a big transport truck to stop for us, and we got pretty lucky with this one. It was much nicer on the inside than we expected. He was a driver from Chile that drove back and forth between Santiago and the south of Argentina and had been on the road for a few days already. I sat in the back on his bunk while Jesse took the front seat and the driver and I gave him spanish lessons on the verb tener, which means to have. He brought us to the intersection of RN40 and RN259, where we hopped out and got into Hitchhike Ride 8 within two minutes. It was a truck with two early 20 Argentinian friends who were going to the next town, Esquel.
They brought us all the way to the end of the town even though they lived near the center, which was really nice of them. Hitchhiking is a way of life in Patagonia and we didn’t have a single bad experience. We thought it would be mostly other tourists who picked us up, but so far it had been all locals.
Once we got out of the car at the end of Esquel, we barely had enough time to even put on our backpacks before an Argentinian kayak tour guide pulled over and answered yes to our sky high thumbs. Hitchhike Ride 9. He was just going to Trevin, the next town, but of course we agreed to get in his truck. Even though he worked in Argentina, he told us about this river just on the other side of the border in Chile where there was amazing white water rafting. We noted his suggestion and enjoyed the conversation throughout the drive.
When we got out of his car, we had an older woman wave us down before we could even put our backpacks on and asked if we needed another ride. Our thumbs weren’t even up, she waved us down! Hitchhike Ride 10. This was probably our most successful day of hitchhiking to date. Her name was Luca. She wasn’t going very far, but could bring us on the way to Los Alerces National Park, which was our next destination. She was the sweetest woman and told us all about her big plans for her upcoming 80th birthday party in December.
It was a whirlwind of a day, and when we got out of the car we were alone on a small dirt road, seemingly heading nowhere and everywhere at the same time. We finally took a moment to figure out our plans. We were heading into Los Alerces, but realized it was much bigger than we originally realized. We looked at the map and based on where we were, we realized that there probably wouldn’t be much more traffic on this road given the place and the hour. It would be highly unlikely that we would get to Los Maitenes camping in Los Alerces that night.
We jumped the gun a little too early and were so enthusiastic at Luca’s offer that we said yes before really thinking things through. With the new knowledge of white water rafting just across the border, a days’ hitchhike away, and only 2 days planned for Los Alerces, we decided to turn back the way we came and head towards Trevin. It was a 3 km hike to the closest wild camping spot on iOverlander, and 6 km to the nearest informal (a parking lot) or formal camping spot (another couple of km) and it was getting pretty late so we decided to just hike to the wild camping spot. Plus, we were feeling pretty good about our ride success form the day and were more willing to try wild camping for the first time.
Essentially this means that another traveler before you found a spot somewhere, stayed there for a night, pinned it on a map with a description of what the terrain was like, and a recommendation of whether they would spend the night there again or not.
There was only one post for this location. The original post on iOverlander said this, “perfect for cyclist And hikers. hidden from the road. just follow the trail that leads to the river. some rubbish. but perfect wind And rain protection. don’t drink water from the river. fill your bottles before here.”
Since it advised that you should bring your own water because the river by the spot was suspect at best, we needed to make a plan. We barely had enough water left to drink, never mind to cook with, and there weren’t any stores on this road. We chose a random house, and I knocked on a door to ask if we could please fill up our 2 large Sawyer water filtration bags. Yet another success for the day. The woman was so kind; she welcomed me into her home, and allowed me to fill up before we hit the road again.
The original post was made in March of 2018 so it was recent enough. Some rubbish though? Loads of trash was more like it. We couldn’t really find the trail that led to the river at first so we were walking around in piles of trash laughing about what a disaster this was. I don’t think anyone stayed there since the original post though so the trail they referred to was hidden at first. We eventually found it and made our way to the river. The area was a washout area with thick river grass and lots of trees and dead branches, but the ground was flat enough and the spot was definitely hidden from the road.
We went to town, clearing the ground as best we could and set up shop. This was probably the most ghetto spot of our entire time in Patagonia, but we had so much fun at this one night home of ours.
We trekked 6 km to the end of Trevin and put our bags down, anticipating what we thought would be one of the longer waiting periods for a ride. Today was our first border crossing, and we thought it would be more difficult to get someone to take us across the border.
Turned out to be pretty easy though actually. Another young Argentinian couple picked us up for Hitchhike Ride 11 and brought us across the border to Chile. You technically aren’t allowed to cross the border with hitchhikers, so after we exited Argentina, we walked 1 km to the Chilean border, crossed on foot, then they picked us up again on the other side once we turned the bend out of sight of the border office.
This was the ride where we learned about the culture of mate in Argentina. Mate is a famous tea experience there. I call it an experience because it’s a shared cup of tea. The tea is put into a hollow calabash gourd, and you pour steamingly hot water into the top of the cup. You drink it out of a steal straw that goes directly into the open top. You drink the full cup, pass it to the next person, they fill it up again with water, drink it, then pass. This is continued over and over until the tea leaves no longer give off flavor.
A few key rules of the mate pass. 1 - You drink the entire cup before passing to the next person. 2 - Never touch or move the straw. It’s considered rude. 3 - Saying thank you at the end of your turn indicates that you’re finished and don’t want to be included on the next round.
Now I hate mate, but Jesse loves it. When the girl in the front offered him the cup, of course he said yes. She poured steaming water form an extremely well insulated thermos into the cup and passed it back to him. After his second round and enthusiastic thank yous, she explained the third rule to him. He responded by repeatedly saying no thank you, no thank you. We all laughed since we knew what he meant; he was certainly not done with the mate.
We got out of their car in the first town in Chile, Futaleufu and headed straight for the white water rafting office. There was a minimum of 4 people needed for a trip, but unfortunately we were just two people. The girl said another couple was there early this morning, but decided that if no one showed up by noon, they were going to continue on. We later learned it was our cyclist friends we met in Bariloche. She seemed hopeful though that someone would show up the next day to make the trip possible, and since we turned around instead of going into Los Alerces, we didn’t mind waiting until the morning.
There were a few established campsites in town, but we had so much fun wild camping the night before that we decided to give it another go. We headed down to the bank of Rio Epsolon. There was a sign that said private property, no camping, but according to iOverlander, this was a pretty popular camping spot. You could camp right by the river, or hop the fence, ignore a second no camping sign, and walk back a few meters to a more private spot.
The first spot was only semi secluded, but definitely noticeable from the bridge if you knew where to look, so we spent a few hours tossing back some beers by the river listening to music to make our first curated playlist and waited until dark to go back a little farther and wild camp in the second spot. The devious nature of wild camping made it all the more exciting, and we pulled off our second night of wild camping without a hitch.
Except we got many hitches. 14 days. 3 nights in hostels. 11 nights camping. 11 hitchhike rides. Much more to come.